Deadly Metrolink crash figure back in court

A state appellate court will hear arguments next month in the case of Juan Manuel Alvarez, who is appealing the 11 life sentences he received for causing the deadly Metrolink train derailment in 2005.

Alvarez, a former Compton construction worker, will appeal a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury’s decision in 2008 to convict him of 11 counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson.

On Jan. 26, 2005, Alvarez parked his Jeep Cherokee on the train tracks that bisect Glendale and Los Angeles.

Shortly before 6 a.m., an oncoming Metrolink train crashed into the Jeep, sending rail cars off the tracks and into an approaching train on an adjacent track. Eleven people died and 184 others were injured.

Alvarez’s attorneys filed an appeal weeks after his conviction.

Attorneys on both sides are scheduled to make arguments in front of a three-judge panel for the state 2nd District Court of Appeal on Jan. 17. Calls to Alvarez’s attorney and the state attorney general’s office went unreturned Thursday.

The wife of Thomas Ormiston, the Metrolink conductor who died in the crash, said she hadn’t heard about the upcoming hearing. While “every citizen has the right to appeal,” Ann Ormiston said she hoped Alvarez sentencing would stand and that he “never sees the light of day again.”

Defense attorneys had argued that Alvarez parked his SUV on the tracks in an attempt to commit suicide due to marriage troubles and drug use.

But prosecutors disagreed, arguing that Alvarez orchestrated the derailment to gain the attention of his wife.

During Alvarez’s sentencing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Pounders also ordered him to pay $92,019 in restitution.

A state appeals court ruled in 2008 that plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit couldn't argue that Metrolink's practice of pushing cars with a locomotive at the rear, rather than pulling them from the front, was negligent. Attorneys had argued that the push mode left the front cars vulnerable to being pried off the tracks when hitting obstacles and was inherently unsafe.

In 2009, Metrolink agreed to pay about $39 million to settle lawsuits that were filed as a result of what had been the deadliest derailment in the transit agency’s history. That dubious distinction was usurped in September 2008, when a Metrolink train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth.

Twenty five people were killed and another 135 riders were injured in that crash.

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